John Harwood Spins: Clinton Using Personal Email May Have Just Been 'Excessive Caution'

March 3rd, 2015 5:25 PM

Is John Harwood vying for an award for the most patently absurd spin to shield Hillary Clinton from damage from the controversy regarding her refusal to use State Department email for official correspondence?

Wrapping up a segment on Tuesday's Closing Bell program, the veteran CNBC reporter suggested that Hillary Clinton's use of personal email to conduct State Department correspondence may well have been just a case of "excessive caution" on her part: 

KELLY EVANS, anchor: And, John, just before we let you go, it does seem at this point like there needs to be some uniform standards with regard to email, do there not? I mean, otherwise it's up to every candidate or politician or officeholder or whomever to decide what and how much to release, and that just doesn't seem like the best approach.

JOHN HARWOOD: Well, I think it's a moving target, Kelly, because the regulations on this have changed over time. The State Department indicated today that John Kerry was the first Secretary of State to use completely a official State Department email address. So this is something that's been evolving and Hillary Clinton was serving during that evolution. But it is not 100 percent clear to me whether or not this was a clear violation or excessive caution on her part. We're going to have to see more come out.

It's one thing to slip up and send a few pieces of official correspondence via personal email. It's quite another to serve four years as a principal officer in a federal department of government and NOT set up an email account for the conduct of official e-correspondence. After all, 2009 was hardly the infancy of the Internet age.

What's more, security experts have raised concerns about how Clinton's email may have been more susceptible to foreign hackers. From the National Journal:

"The focus here really needs to be on the information-security piece," said Chris Soghoian, principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's irresponsible to use a private email account when you are the head of an agency that is going to be targeted by foreign intelligence services."

The State Department said Tuesday Clinton did not transmit classified information via her personal account, but there could still be value in accessing those electronic communications—and recent history suggests they may be easier to crack than government emails. Soghoian noted that it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's personal cell phone that was tapped by the National Security Agency, according to files disclosed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

"If the personal communications of heads of state weren't interesting, then governments wouldn't monitor them," he said. "This is the easiest thing for the intelligence services to target."